Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Gulf region's newest pipeline: human trafficking

By Jamie Etheridge

(KUWAIT CITY) When Judy left her home on the southern coast of the Philippines this spring, it was her first trip abroad and her first time on an airplane. She was excited, nervous, and sad all at once.

Like many young Filipina women before her, awaiting her in Kuwait was the promise of a good job and enough money to support her family and save for school. She was to become a nanny and tutor to a young boy.

But on her first day working for the Kuwaiti family for whom she had been hired by a recruiting office in Mindanao, Philippines, her excitement quickly turned to fear.

Her new 'Mama' - what Asian maids in the Gulf call their female sponsors - told her, " 'I don't like you, you are ugly,' " says Judy, who didn't give her last name, in an interview at the Philippine labor attache's office in Kuwait. "I didn't understand what was going on. I just wanted to cry."

Work began at 5 a.m. and ended at midnight. "I washed clothes, cleaned the floors, scrubbed toilets and sinks and bathrooms. And just kept doing that over and over again," she says. "All this and no food, no rest."

One day she waited until her sponsor was out, then packed a bag, and escaped to the Philippine Embassy joining hundreds of other Filipina women who have run away from their Kuwaiti employers to seek sanctuary at the Overseas' Workers' Administration at the embassy.

Unable to leave until her sponsor pays her back wages because she cannot afford to buy a plane ticket home, Judy and the other women spend their days sitting in the embassy, unable to get another job and unable to go home.

Thousands of men, women, and children, most of them from Asia, will be trafficked to the Gulf this year to live as what the US State Department calls "modern day slaves." Most won't know until they get here what lies in store for them and hundreds will, like Judy, flee their employers, suffer physical, emotional and/or sexual abuse, and go home empty-handed.

Click here to read this story online: